Stab: Hey Leilani, how are you? Everything going well on your trip?
Leilani McGonagle: I’m good, thanks! And yeah, it’s been interesting. I got a ninth in Spain and a fifth in Morocco – not quite the results I was looking for, but that’s okay. This is my first year really doing the QS, so I’m just trying to do my best and learn from every event.
But you did win an event this year.
Yes, Barbados, that was amazing! I had a bad string of results before that, and it’s easy to get down on yourself when you’re not competing to your own potential, but to bounce back and win an event like that gave me the confidence to realize that I can actually do this. And my results have improved a lot since then.
Tell me about Costa Rica! I’m sure growing up in that magical land must have had a big impression on you as not just a surfer, but a human being also.
Oh, I love my country. It means everything to me. It’s shaped me as a person, completely. And my surfing is a result of growing up at one of the best waves in the world. But despite how many good surfers we have, there’s not quite as much recognition in our country, so it’s hard to get noticed on a world scale and make a name for yourself. I really look up to people like my brother [Noe Mar] and Carlos [Munoz] who have helped pave the way for surfers like me.
We also heard that you’ve grown up with a pretty severe case of scoliosis. How has that affected you?
Yeah, I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 11. I have a double major curve in my spine, and they’re both like 60 degrees off-line, which is bad, but I’ve been dealing with it for a long time so I know how it works. It was recommended that I get surgery but we decided against that, and instead I wore a brace up until a year ago. Now I just do yoga, and that’s actually been really helpful, as I’ve learned a lot about my body and its alignment. It’s almost like a blessing in disguise. I’m definitely more in tune with my body than I think a lot of people are.
Were you able to reverse any of the damage with the brace and yoga?
Mmm not really... because it’s two curves, if I start correcting one, the other gets worse. So without surgery it’s basically non-reversible.
How does this affect your surfing?
Thankfully I’ve never had any pain from it, because we caught it at a really young age and started working on it right away. It was more of a learning curve than anything. I’ve never known my back to be any other way, so I guess it doesn’t affect my surfing at all [laughs].
Want more? Read the full Stab interview right over here